This is the first in our UK clean tech series. From electric vehicles to digital energy, we explore Britain’s fast-changing clean tech landscape, in a world on the brink of a net zero future.
The next decade is make or break in the fight against the climate crisis.
We must halve our carbon output every decade between now and 2050 to have a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, according to IPCC scientists. In the UK, that means starting with the two biggest polluting sectors: transport and energy.
This can feel like mammoth task – one that is far beyond any individual whose car runs on petrol and home heating runs on gas. But rapid decarbonisation is possible.
Advancements in science and clean technology over the past decade have created solutions that can help all homes, transport and industries cut emissions. And this technology is about to become very popular.
You may have heard about renewable energy, electric vehicles, digitalisation, smart meters or energy storage – but what does it all mean for the climate crisis? How exactly will these technologies help us reach the UK goal of net zero emissions by 2050?
Clean tech, at its core, is technology that facilitates generating, storing, sharing and delivering energy, without contributing to carbon emissions – even taking it out of our atmosphere.
Up until now, clean tech has been for early adopters, tech wizards or those that could afford to spend thousands of pounds on the latest kit. But in 2020, increasingly supportive government policy and falling costs are creating a wider market.
Clean tech will provide the tools to enable a net zero UK. Ultimately, we must empower people with the knowledge to use it – and take control of their clean energy future.
Every fortnight, we will be detailing the trailblazing carbon-cutting clean tech that will help the UK reach net zero, including:
This series aims to help grow understanding and adoption of UK clean tech in 2020 – the year of climate action.
Most people are aware that electricity can be generated from the wind and the sun. Renewable energy has always been at the heart of clean tech. Without solar panels and wind turbines, we would be forced to continue our dependence on fossil fuels.
In Britain last year, more power came from renewable energy than fossil fuels for the first time. Renewable energy generated 48.5% of the UK's electricity, compared with 43% from fossil fuels.
Renewables are the original A-list celebs of the clean tech world, without which very few other technologies would be possible. Plus new ideas are still coming forward, from urban wind turbines to ways to generate electricity from our seas.
Renewable energy, however, is intermittent. This means that energy can only be generated when, for example, the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Not ideal on a calm, still night.
Clean tech however, has provided an answer: energy storage. By storing energy, often in batteries, but also in other ways, we can save energy on sunny or windy days, to release at a later time, such as late at night or when demand for power is highest.
Energy storage comes in many forms. Home batteries can store the energy generated from rooftop solar panels to be fed back into a house overnight. Scale this up, and huge batteries, some the size of houses, can store energy to provide much-needed power to towns and cities. We can also store energy using compressed air or even gravity.
Energy companies are already realising the importance of energy storage. Companies like GRIDSERVE are already championing the combination of solar panel energy generation with storage to utilise every unit of clean energy created.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are one of the most exciting clean technologies. They have the potential to contribute to the decarbonisation of our most-polluting transport and energy sectors.
Transport has been something of a problem for carbon emissions reduction. Vehicle engines have become cleaner over the past 20 years, but the number of vehicles on the road has increased. Engine improvements have had little to no effect on overall carbon emissions. Ultimately, while the vast majority of cars continue to run on petrol and diesel, our carbon footprint will not improve.
EVs are a game changer. By powering a car with electricity, the need for petrol and diesel is removed, and the oil that produces these fuels can remain in the ground.
EVs are also batteries on wheels, because they can store and share energy when plugged into the grid. There are 36 million EVs predicted to be on UK roads by 2040. That’s a lot of potential storage and support for the energy network. This extra storage will help balance intermittent renewable energy and further decarbonise our energy networks. By combining EVs with renewables and storage, we can deliver enormous carbon savings for the UK.
How will we manage the supply and demand of all this clean energy, between 36 million EVs, home batteries, large-scale storage, wind turbines and rooftop solar panels?
With data, of course.
For example, UK-based clean tech company Moixa, has found a way to harness the avalanche of energy data generated every day – and funnel it into intelligently managing our energy use.
Innovative businesses are using artificial intelligence (AI) platforms to boost UK clean tech in 2020. AI-powered platforms, such as that used by the flexible-energy Yoyu app (in beta), register when the wind is blowing a gale, when the sun is shining – and when electric vehicles and batteries need charging. These platforms then optimise that data to efficiently control the flow of energy between batteries and homes to ensure that nothing is wasted.
The digital management of energy will be an important solution to enable all the different clean technologies to work together harmoniously.
Gas is another problem in the UK where carbon emissions are concerned. We have made huge progress in decarbonising the electricity network, but gas presents a whole new set of challenges for the clean tech sector.
The vast majority of the UK relies on natural gas to heat our homes and cook our food. This creates a significant carbon footprint in the process. But what if there was a clean, carbon-free alternative that can do the same job?
Studies looking at how to harness the power of hydrogen gas have been ongoing since the 1970s and the technology is now being trialled to replace natural gas and even provide a clean fuel for large vehicles like lorries and busses. Hydrogen gas is carbon free, flammable and compatible with the UK heating and power industry. In the long term it has the potential to replace much of the natural gas we use today.
The importance of the next ten years in combatting the climate emergency cannot be overstated. Only through a combination of investment, policy and consumer behaviour change can we fully decarbonise.
Widespread adoption of clean technologies can drive this change. The UK Government must continue to implement policies that will ensure clean tech achieves the scale needed to dramatically cut carbon emissions. Only by empowering everyone to take control of carbon usage can we fully decarbonise and achieve net zero.
This is the first in our UK clean tech series. Our next blog will delve into renewable energy in 2020; the good, the great and what we can do better. You can also sign up for our free, daily clean energy and sustainability e-mail.
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